Sitting with sadness

I first came across the Mindful Gardner Blog last week and was entranced by the pleasure of the pictures, the words and the concepts of simply being with the natural world. Living in London, I have only a small balcony to grow plants and flowers and coming from the countryside, a garden is one of the things I miss the most.

I miss the cold March air on my face as I set the seeds for the year ahead.

And the warm April sunshine as I sit with coffee watching the first bees doing their work.

And the baking heat of the midsummer day when the garden is a riot of colour and the voices of the plants are singing in perfect harmony.

I miss the longer shadows of the late summer evening, when the loudest of the plants are quietening down and the luminous purples of the bee plants are set against the twilight.

And the ritual picking and packing down of the harvest and the thanks giving in my heart for the joy the garden has given me.

All of those things I miss and will have again there is no doubt. But each of those things took me into the absolute moment of my living, which in turn brought (and will bring) alignment with life and healing.

This beautiful blog brings it alive for me, in the year when we are going to find grace in waiting and peace and even joy, I hope you find all of these things in this writing and more. x

The Mindful Gardener

Life can be sad. Very sad. We have no control over when tragedy strikes. It might be bereavement, separation, illness, the loss of an important part of yourself.

We’re not very good at sadness. We try to tidy it up, or put it in a box, or cover it with laughter, or bury it.

The best book on sadness that I have read is Michael Rosen’s Sad Book.

In it, there is a illustration of the author when he is feeling sad:

And one of what he feels like inside:

That picture breaks my heart. But it also offers a tiny little glimmer of hope, because if it resonates with us, sadness is just a tiny bit less lonely.

Now there are little sadnesses in life, and there are great chasms of darkness. This is a book about those sorts of sadness.

Although this book is a picture book…

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14 Comments

    1. Yes, I recognised that face. It is like a dried seed husk. But if you look at Michael Rosen now, he has survived (his son died) and has been able to continue. He is lively and productive and has lots of interesting things to say about the world. Thank you for commenting – it means a lot to hear back from a reader. X

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  1. “there is life beyond this catastrophe. The catastrophe will still be there, but it will not fill your entire life.”

    So true. In the depths of despair such a scenario seems unattainable………but believe…..because many have been there before you and discovered this truth for themselves. When you reach its gentler shores, breathe deep and know that you are safe.

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    1. Thank you for this, Sadsam. I am glad that this resonated with you, and that you added such beautiful words.
      We are all connected, dipping our feet in the same ocean and breathing the same air.

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  2. I return to the garden metaphor often. I reflect on my life as being infected with blossom end rot (often affects tomatoes). A tomato plant beginning as a vulnerable, tiny seedling. Slowly getting its bearings to begin growing, growing in size, strength, resilience. And then, the wonder of it all – the first blossom, such a sign of promise!

    And then that blossom, that beautiful flower, sacrificing its temporary beauty to beget the fruit, the tomato. So perfect in its form, so relentless in its growth. And you watch in wonder day after day, not wanting to rush things, but wondering what it will become.

    Then the first blush of color, faint at first. Anticipation grows. The color deepens, the memory of the little green marble fading. And then, the perfectly shaped and colored fruit, again perfect in its own way, ready for harvest.

    But alas, what was not seen, noticed. The blossom end rot, working its pathology unseen, rendering your treasured tomato as diseased, damaged, ruined. Were you just blind to the rot, or was it just so perfectly concealed while you gloried in the good?

    February now. My garden cold and dead. How do I find the enthusiasm, the strength, the faith to plant again?

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  3. I have lived in this house for some ten years or so since I split from my former partner and mother of our children. Prior to this place I was six months in a house some 15 miles away. That was a solitary place which didn’t lend itself to co-parenting because it was so far from where the kids and their friends lived.

    The last ten years haven’t been easy especially the first few when trust was absent and the children were weighed down with their parent’s anxieties.

    The kids have grown up and gone now, their previously fleeting but meaningful visits vanished.

    In the garden, such a beautiful place, are the remnants of my children’s lives. In the shed are two bikes one complete and the other part-dismantled waiting for someone to repair. There’s a clean water filter which is all that remains of the kiddies playing pool. Secured to the wall of the house is a basketball hoop and a bar that is used for pull-ups, everything a teenage boy might desire.

    Betwixt my work of growing vegetables are various graves of little fellows who protected my children through the worst effects of parental separation.

    Space was at such a premium that one year I inadvertently dug up a hamster grave trying to retrieve a crop of maris pipers. The most famous grave is marked by his water bottle. There lies Blue Rabbit the most lovable and courageous of creatures wise enough to out-dandlebear the best of them.

    My garden is a sad place and a kindly one, be-spattered with the remnants of parenting. In the front is a maze, deceptive pathways mown lovingly with the petrol mower. The privet hedge is shaped like a train, with carriages. It was Puffing Billy chugging along, but as the years slipped by it lost its’ chimney stack and now resembles a pariah, blazing through the underworld in potter-esque fashion.

    This cold and windy afternoon I looked out to see the vestiges of Spring. Pretty orange and purple crocus in the rockery and the curly heads of rhubarb crown poking up as if to say, bring on the hope and optimism that welcomes in a new beginning.

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    1. Anonymous, I was struck by your portrayal of the haunting air of a garden and shed still “… bespattered with the remnants of parenting”

      I too was left with a garden full of mementoes of those young lives who has played within. Then one day I knew it was time to acknowledge life had moved on and that it was time to let the garden reflect the present not the past. I took photos and set to work clearing away the past.

      Change would have happened anyway in the natural course of things. Now my garden works for my life today. It is indeed a place of comfort and joy.

      The danger is we get stuck in the past, that we stimy our healing by the surroundings we cling to. I have never regretted moving my garden on. I live in the present and enjoy the minute changes each day brings in my garden.

      You say that “My garden is a sad place and a kindly one…”…..maybe it’s time to let it nurture you rather than sadden you? Time doesn’t stand still…..

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  4. I hope you do, Peter. I find it comforting that spring rolls on and the life-force is unstoppable. There are harsh realities: sudden frosts, buffeting storms, impenetrable mists, but then there is a tiny little bit of sun. Sometimes that is enough to keep you going. I would like to think that you plant something for yourself. You sound like you deserve it.

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  5. It is hard – we do lose enthusiasm for things when sad. Maybe plant something which cannot rot or die? Partner’s son planted a time capsule last year – it will be there for many many years, and it won’t rot or die. It’s a part of him that is here. I have also lost the enthusiasm for growing things in the garden, but soon the bulbs will come out all on their own, whether I do anything in the garden or not. Have faith in the eternal annual cycles that are not affected by our sorrows but keep renewing year after year, for our benefit.

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    1. Sitting here on a cold Friday afternoon in East London, where life rolls on in a somewhat urban way, the images of gardens and the love for our children in those places rises up from these pages with immense power. Life indeed rolls on and it is life with which we are entangled and life which we must reckon with, ours and theirs, here and not here not but probably here again at some point in this intertwined life of stories told and untold.

      I know when I read these descriptions and feel the love which jumps off the page, that healing hearts and minds and bringing comfort and joy is what is utterly necessary in this world.

      when we wrote our book we wrote some additional chapters which the publishers asked us to remove. Those chapters were all about healing (the book only has one short chapter in it and nothing about living with the experience of alienation on an ongoing basis).

      These writings take me to the next place in our work and our learning and experiencing together, it is time to heal and to live and to find the joy which comes from being. We won’t leave a single child behind, they will come with us in our wheelbarrows and the old bikes in their sheds and their pets and their lives will come too. For all those things live with us and all those things have meaning in the healing.

      Time for a new chapter, a new journey.

      Ali, Sadsam, CG, Peter, anonymous, Woodman (lovely to see you here again) and all those who have read and not commented, thank you for being here, thank you for sharing. On we go, together into the next phase.

      Sending you all love.

      And remember, this weekend it is candlemas/Imbolc that time for picking the seeds we are going to plant and the thoughts and the habits and the love we are going to grow this year.

      I will light candles for all who come here and those all around the world.

      Out on the horizon is the changing consciousness of the universe in which the loss of children is recognised. The tides are turning. As they do we will turn our hands to new things together and be ready.

      xxxx

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  6. Karen, if things are changing they aren’t in Ireland!! I’d said previously my son had gotten into trouble and I have tried everything to find out how much is true and how much (God forgive him) my ex said to get my daughter to repeat to me!
    My boy is 17 but because his father has residency of him then I can be told nothing due to the Data Protection Act!!!

    I have never felt so confused and such anger! I really have been completely removed from any part of my son’s life and I feel at this point I should just walk away!

    The pain is physical and my heart is broken! The emotional abuse perpetrated on my wee daughter is palpable!!

    I know he is in trouble but as his mammy I’m not allowed to know why!

    It seems like one step forward, 2 steps back!

    Frankie x

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  7. The therapeutic gardener

    George was unloading his shopping from the boot of his car when his neighbour noticed the shovel and bag of compost. He comically remarked, “I see you have something to bury the Ex with close to hand”. George smiled in recognition, the first few years of his divorce especially hadn’t been easy.

    George now worked in mental health. He always had some gardening equipment in the boot of his car because he said, “you never know when you might need it”.

    “It is a wonderful medium with which to work”, he said. Scent, sight, taste, sound, social, touch, all those senses covered in a single occupation.

    George drove steadily down the High Street toward his planned rendezvous with Kevin wondering if his tomatoes had begun to ripen. He loved the intoxicating scent as fingers crushed the soft hairy leaves of the plant.
    ……………………………..
    It was his gaze that arose him from his daydream.

    Perhaps George could have been forgiven for thinking that life was nothing more than a series of unfortunate events. He had just seen his former partner walking up the village street as he drove steadily toward her in his little car, making way to his appointment.

    Bear in mind it is ten years since George has left the family home. They have been co-parenting all that time, living in the same village for all but the first few months. The children have gone to seek their fortunes and live their lives elsewhere.
    She was the only person in the street and George was driving the only car, approaching head on. The trigger for George’s behaviour was the raising of her right hand to cover her face; he hated being shunned and ignored by her. Why couldn’t she just be civil? Many years ago, when the split was raw, the Court process in full swing, George would have gripped the steering wheel tightly, in anger imagining what it would have been like to mount the pavement and run her over, by accident. Just around the corner George would slam his right foot to the floor screaming obscenities into oblivion as he raced furiously away.
    ………………..
    But today George is a different man. He had set himself up for a weak smile and wave of acknowledgement.
    Was he still angry, wanting to run her down with the big metal machine under his control? Did his pulse race? Where his hackles up? Not a bit of it.

    He was momentarily a little disappointed, even surprised, then on reflection, sad for her. Today, George sees her as a lady trapped by her condemnation of him. This was not George’s problem, it was hers.
    ……………………….
    George would like to help but of course he can’t, because she sees him as the problem. She will have to find her own therapist.

    …………………………………………….

    At the monthly meeting in the Pub Patel said, “that’s an interesting story illustrating how a leopard never changes her spots, once an alienator always an alienator, eh”.

    It was Jane who thanked Patel for his observation and then proceeded to tell us what the story had meant to her.
    What is interesting to me is how George’s attitude has changed, granted his former partner appears to have the same disdainful attitude toward him, but George has changed his approach to her and in so doing relieved himself of some anxiety and empowered himself to make a difference. From feeling incapacitated by the behaviours of his former partner he is now more confident that whatever she does is simply the ravings of her discontentment and only of detriment to herself. Changing attitude changes behaviour.

    “But what about the children,” said John, “surely, he can’t abandon the children to her deviousness and malice?”
    “I don’t think he did”, said Jane, “in his case it was all about the children and the transition bridge”.
    “But the kids are still vulnerable, aren’t they?”
    “He thinks they are resilient enough to stand on their own two feet and make their own decisions in life. He has faith in them. He wants them to continue having a relationship with their mother and at the same time he continues to show interest and make himself available to them”.

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